by Ririko Tsujita; adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
It’s always a pleasure when you hear someone recommend a book, you try it, and you like it, perhaps even more than they did. But thankfully, that’s what happened when I tried The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko.
Kanoko is adorable, to start, with a rounded bob haircut, glasses, and an extreme dislike of her age group. Each chapter features her indulging in her favorite pastime: watching her classmates and recording their feelings and actions. She treats them as her soap opera, only she winds up getting dragged into their interactions. While she’s congratulating herself on her objectivity and powers of observation, we see how much she’s also swayed by the right word or the thoughtful gesture. She praises herself for choosing to have no friends, but it’s making a virtue of necessity.
Don’t worry for her, though, because Kanoko also has a habit of finding herself involved in her little experiments. I like that, for all Kanoko is her own little bundle of cliches, she rips the lid off the standard shojo stereotypes, with little patience for game-playing. Among other situations, here she takes on the obnoxious teacher, the artsy type seeking to be the center of attention, and the plain girl who wants a makeover to catch the cute boy. Some of Kanoko’s behavior reminded me of fandom, with her lists and notebooks and her lack of patience for those who don’t understand her shorthand nicknames for those she watches. She’s suspicious and sarcastic and plain-spoken, all of which makes her endearing to me.
I loved seeing someone so geeky and non-normal as a heroine, both because I had sympathy pangs from my own younger days and because she’s refreshing in comparison to all the happy non-distinguished girls. Her uniqueness stems from a strong, individual personality. Plus, as an adult, you’ll get another level of humor from knowing what’s really happening in place of Kanoko’s younger suppositions. Her lack of patience with the social conventions isn’t quite as high-minded as she pretends, but it’s all funny just the same.
I thought, when I first heard that she moves schools and meets a whole new group of people in the second chapter, that it would seem artificial (in order to allow the artist to repeat her gimmick) or disappointing (since we’d miss the characters we’d briefly gotten to know). Neither is true. A new cast allows for new observations and more openings for humor. Kanoko’s cynicism allows for her to be leery of what she sees as “friendship games”, but it’s important to learn that not everyone is pretending just for popularity or advancement. There’s also the possibility of true friendship, and that’s what gives The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko its heart.